Super spring cleaning at Lincoln Heights Elementary
On this sunny Saturday morning a handful of kids skip play time in exchange for doing chores with their parents at Lincoln Heights Elementary. Altogether more than 75 volunteers dust the media center, re-stripe the basketball court, mulch the playground and cover other tasks. At the playground, Taylor Woodburry and a friend smooth out piles of mulch. Taylor is a fourth grader at Lincoln Heights. He says having a fresh appearance at the school will help students behave. He says, "If things don't look good, they don't really get a happy impression, if they don't get a happy impression, they're going to take it out on other people." Taylor's mom Sarah Woodbury calls this project important. She says, "I dropped what we were doing to come here this morning because I believe in this school. I believe in these kids and they need to know that someone believes in them." Lincoln Heights has its challenges. It's a neighborhood school with a partial magnet program. But that's not enough to prop up the school, which has consistently had less than 50 percent of students testing at grade level. Eighty-percent of the student body receives free or reduce-priced lunch and it's 94 percent minority. Principal Martha Carpenter points out that parents of students at low performing schools have challenges of their own. She says many are single parents who hold down two or more jobs. And this means little or no participation in the PTA. "We don't have the money that come in that supports other initiatives. So all of the resources we get cover the basics. So when you have a volunteer group that comes in and does things we couldn't physically do, it really adds so much to the school," says Carpenter. The volunteer organization, Hands On Charlotte approached the district with the idea for one major cleanup day a month at a low-performing school in the center city. It's called the "Big Project" because it aims to attract 100 volunteers each time. Hands On Charlotte Consulting Executive Director Lisa Quisenberry says the goal is two-fold. "And what we're hoping is that someone will really want to come back and be a mentor, or tutor or lunch buddy and take that initiative to do a little bit more. So we're hopeful that while it's beautification this Saturday, there may be some opportunities that flow out of this at Lincoln Heights, ongoing," she says. The other part is that Hands on Charlotte wants to help minimize the impact of cuts to maintenance service in CMS. At the kickoff briefing for the project, Superintendent Peter Gorman was thankful for the help. "We've had to trim in so many areas and that can mean longer waits in between maintenance visits as we let our money stretch further. For example, we're waiting longer between mowings during the year. It's a little more difficult for people who do maintenance and grounds work to get all of the weeding and things done," he says. The budget proposal for next school year eliminates 71 maintenance positions and shifts existing staff to cut the grass. The "Big Project" has so far scheduled cleaning days at six other struggling schools. The next big cleanup takes place at the end of the month.